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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In what could be a historic watershed, Pope Francis has opened the door to blessing the union of homosexual couples in the Roman Catholic Church, which calls into question a ban on same-sex blessings issued by his own doctrinal watchdog in 2021.
Francis has also indicated that the question of women's ordination and Anglican orders, authoritatively ruled on by previous popes, could be open to further study, although, according to the pontiff, the Church's prior pronouncements on these issues "must be adhered to by all."
"Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage," Francis wrote, in response to a question on the blessing of same-sex unions submitted by five cardinals.
"For when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a plea to God for help, a supplication to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better," the pontiff stated. "The defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity; it also includes kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness and encouragement."
"Therefore, we cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude," the pope added, emphasizing "pastoral charity, which should permeate all our decisions and attitudes."
Francis reaffirmed the Church's teaching that the sacrament of matrimony could only be between a man and woman and open to procreation and that the Church should avoid any other ritual or sacramental rite that contradicted this teaching.
On July 10, five cardinals presented a set of five dubia (Latin for "doubts") to Pope Francis, asking for clarity on the issues of doctrinal development, the blessing of same-sex unions, the authority of the Synod on Synodality, women's ordination and sacramental absolution.
In their "Notification to Christ's Faithful" published on Tuesday, Cdls. Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Joseph Zen, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez and Robert Sarah said they received a reply from Pope Francis the following day.
The cardinals explained that they reformulated their questions and resubmitted their dubia to Pope Francis on Aug. 21 because Pope Francis "did not follow the practice of responsa ad dubia (responses to doubts)" by not using the conventional form of "yes" and "no" replies.
The prelates stated that they also intended "to elicit a clear response based on the perennial doctrine and discipline of the Church," but they refused to release the pontiff's July 11 response, stating that the response was addressed only to them and hence not meant for the public.
However, in an unexpected move, the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, under its new prefect Cdl. Víctor Manuel Fernández, published the entire text of Pope Francis' response to the five cardinals on the dicastery's website on Tuesday.
Addressing the cardinals' dubium on the ordination of women in the light of Pope John Paul II's ban on women priests, Pope Francis responded by noting that "a clear and authoritative doctrine on the exact nature of a 'definitive statement' has not yet been fully developed."
"It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it must be adhered to by all," Francis replied. "No one can publicly contradict it, and yet it can be a subject of study, as with the case of the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion."
Catholic and Anglican theologians have been pressing Rome to recognize Anglican orders, arguing that the revised rites of Catholic ordination following Vatican II justify revoking Pope Leo XIII's 1896 decree Apostolicae Curae on the nullity of the Anglican priesthood.
Francis' responsum ad dubia now allows for "pastoral ministers to administer such blessings on a case-by-case basis, advising that 'pastoral prudence' and 'pastoral charity' should guide any response to couples who request a blessing," the pro-LGBT New Ways Ministry said.
"This statement is one big straw towards breaking the camel's back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the Church," the apostolate's statement added.
In March 2021, the DDF issued a responsum ad dubium categorically ruling out the possibility of blessings for same-sex couples as "illicit" and "unlawful" stating that God "does not and cannot bless sin," Church Militant reported.
However, months later, Pope Francis banished the DDF's second-in-command, Abp. Giacomo Morandi, who was responsible for drafting the ruling, to the bishopric of Italy's Reggio Emilia diocese.
On Monday, the Vatican released a second set of responsa (Latin for "responses") to 10 dubia submitted by Cdl. Dominik Jaroslav Duka, archbishop emeritus of Prague, regarding "the administration of the Eucharist to divorced couples living in a new union."
Cardinal Fernández categorically stated that "each person, individually, is called to put himself before God and expose his conscience to Him, with both its possibilities and its limits," and evaluate his disposition to receive Holy Communion.
While previous popes have required such couples to refrain from sex, Francis "admits that there may be difficulties in practicing [continence] and therefore allows in certain cases, after adequate discernment, the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation even when it is not possible in being faithful to the continence proposed by the Church."
The responsa also stated that Francis' clarification to the bishops of Buenos Aires regarding the pastoral application of Amoris Laetitia, should be taken as "authentic magisterium" and that the DDF would not issue any future explanation.
Since the beginning of his pontificate, many have viewed Francis as sending out ambiguous messages on the morality of homosexual relationships.
In 2020, the pontiff personally phoned homosexual couple Andrea Rubera and Dario De Gregorio to affirm their family and urge them to attend the local parish along with their children.
"Certainly not everyone will share your choice to have a family like this, but I think you should go to the parish because it is good for your children. You will see that you will find welcome; everything will be fine," Francis told the Italian couple.
The couple were "married" in Canada in 2009 and had three children in Canada through a lesbian surrogate mother. Rubera's sperm was used to create daughter Artemisia and De Gregorio's sperm was used in the reproduction of twins Chloe and Iacopo.